“Prove it” will “Kill it”

innovElon Musk, widely recognized as a successful serial entrepreneur and innovator, recently responded to a question from an audience that I found to be a pervasive innovation barrier in the workplace. The question was how he responded to investors or other leaders whose initial response to an idea is either “where has this been done before” or “can you prove it will work?” His response was that virtually all meaningful innovation would cease to exist if those who came up with the idea had to prove the idea would work before even starting.

I have blogged about this before arguing that innovation is not a strange skill set most of us need to learn. As humans, we are inherently gifted with enough intellect to observe around us what could be done better. We use these skills in our personal lives as necessary when, for example, renovating a kitchen, where we can go online, find hundreds of plans, search for vetted contractors, get the best prices, and get it done. Substitute ‘renovating kitchen’ with any health condition, vacation, hobby or other personal endeavor and the same resourcefulness exists. It is a false premise for organizations to blame lack of innovation (and collaboration) on a lack of skills. The real culprit is always what kind of barriers those initial, unbaked, unproven and infant ideas are faced with. Most ideas die before their first breath. Musk also argues that without these ideas coming out of their womb (brain), there is no way for them to go through the necessary and sometimes painful iterative process to get to the real big idea. Expecting game-changing ideas straight from the womb is killing corporate innovation.
This week, ask for crazy ideas to support the targets you have in your business. Think of quantity and let them marinate over each other. Give one person’s idea to another and vice versa with the task of morphing it into the next step.  Rinse and repeat. You will find that you are rarely too far from the game-changer you seek.

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